I've been reading and discussing "The Rule" a lot lately it seems. Otherwise known as the Bechdel Test or the Bechdel/Wallace test, Wikipedia gives the following criteria for The Rule:
1.It has to have at least two women in it,
2.Who talk to each other,
3.About something besides a man.
The "it" in the original The Rule was for movies, but this criteria has been expanded to include any sort of media. I don't apply it to everything I consume, the last book I discussed on this blog would have failed miserably. But I think there is one genre of book that should have this Rule at the forefront of the reader's mind. Romance. I know that the main relationship in a traditional Romance is between the male and female protags, and that is fine. But, I've noticed if The Rule isn't followed than I find myself unable to suspend my disbelief. Romance, to me, without women's relationships with other women is weak and underdeveloped, and I wonder in what world do these characters live where the only thing women have to talk about is men? Women's lives, and therefore Women's fiction, includes many daily interactions with people, men and women, in which their lovelife is not discussed at all. Real, rounded characters, think about things other than their current romantic partner/situation. So, it is essential in Romance, to have full complete characters who have conversations (even offstage conversations) about something other than their relationship. I think from now on when I review or discuss Romance I will mention whether or not the book followed The Rule.
Another thing about Romance that I've noticed in my own reading is that if a story starts out from the male protag's pov and doesn't switch within the first chapter or two into the female protag's pov, I get bored and give up. I tried to read "Marriage Most Scandalous" by Johanna Lindsey both on audio and in they traditional mass market paperback form. It took me a while to figure out why, even though I like the writing, I couldn't get past the first few chapters. I thought back on other Romances that I wanted to read but couldn't get into, and the common thread is that I'm following the adventures of the man for ages and ages and what he's doing may or may not even be related to the actual story. And, I have absolutely no idea who the female protag is even going to be. She's the one I'm going to identify with, so why am I going to care what this random dude is doing...UNTIL HE MEETS THE LADY. So Romance authors, you get 2 chapters max to switch to the lady's pov or I'm probably out of there. Oh, and let her be a normal human having normal non-relationship-based conversations. Him too actually. I'd be equally creeped out if all the dudely protag could think about was lady protag.
So, I've been reading a lot of great Romance lately, particularly historicals by Julia Quinn, and they all pass Bechdel's test and my own. I don't even think it is all that hard to do, and most great Romance (IMHO and to be fair, I mostly like historical and contemporary so maybe this won't work for thrillers or all Romance subgenres) is just written that way.